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The Place and Importance of Faith

Last week’s blog mentioned salvation being the gift of God, that it’s not earned. And, a gift isn’t yours until it’s accepted by you. If someone offers you a birthday gift and you don’t take it, it isn’t yours. The difference between gifts in this world and God’s gift of salvation is faith. You can see and feel a physical gift. You can hold it, use it and enjoy it whatever it is. Not so with salvation. It’s an intangible that cannot be seen,felt, heard or smelled until after it’s used by you. Therefore, the gift of salvation must be accepted by faith. And, without your faith that salvation is real, that Christ is your Savior, there is no salvation. Paul wrote you are saved by God’s grace through your faith (Ephesians 2:8,9).

The problem with faith in God is that you are oriented to this world where everything is tangible. We all are. You were born into this world and raised in this world, and everything you do has some tangible connection that can be seen, felt, heard and sometimes smelled, whether that’s good or bad. It’s natural and normal, then, to believe only in what you can experience in this world because that’s what you’ve been doing all your life from day one. It’s very difficult to have strong faith in an abstract concept like salvation. Yet that’s exactly what God requires of you to really be a Christian.

The apostles had a terrible time believing in salvation by faith, and they walked with Jesus every day. They sat with Jesus twice when He said He was going to feed a multitude with almost no food, and wondered how he was going to do it. They wanted to go to town and buy food, but had not enough money. They questioned Him as to how he was going to feed everyone, but He did through supernatural means. They became afraid when the boat they were in began taking on water. They were afraid they were going to sink, but Jesus calmed the sea (Matthew 8:26). After the crucifixion, the apostles were disenchanted and intended to go back to their old jobs. Peter said, “I’m going fishing”, and he did (John 21:3). It wasn’t until Jesus appeared and filled their empty nets with fish that they really believed in the resurrection and in Jesus as Savior. They had to see him

John the Baptist also had doubts about Jesus being the promised Messiah when he was thrown into prison. Jesus reassured him through references to the physical. He sent word to John, saying, ” Go and tell John of the the things you have seen and heard; how the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached” ( Luke 7:22). Jesus used miracles to convince people that He was the promised Messiah, because only the Messiah could do the works Jesus did because they could not possibly be done by worldly means. Thomas did not believe the other apostles’ accounts of their seeing the raised Jesus until he verified the resurrection by seeing Jesus and feeling His wounds. Jesus told him that he believed because he had seen, heard and felt Him, but “Blessed is he who has not seen and yet believes” (John 20:29).

Some unlikely people did make the distinction between the worldly and the spiritual. The Roman centurion believed Jesus, and related His miracles to how he ordered troops around. He told soldiers to do this or that and they did it because he had the authority of Rome behind him. He believed that Jesus had God’s authority to heal his daughter. Jesus told him He had not found such faith anywhere. When two blind men followed Jesus asking that their sight be restored, Jesus asked them, “Do you believe that I can do this?” They said, “Yes, Lord.” Jesus replied, “According to your faith be it unto you” and their sight was restored (Matthew 9:27-29). Jesus said the same thing to others. He healed a gentile (non Jewish) woman’s daughter because of her faith in Him, saying, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire” (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30).

Faith in this world can sometimes fail even in cases of having faith in physical things. You can believe through logical processes that a chair will hold you up, but you don’t really have faith in it until you sit on it. That doesn’t require much faith, because the consequences are slim. If the chair breaks you are not going to be injured much. Other things require much more faith. I related last week of how I have an unreasonable fear of small suspension bridges, extension ladders and glass-bottomed platforms where you can see to the ground far below. I know those fears are silly. Bridges and platforms are designed by qualified engineers, built by competent construction companies out of quality materials and they are inspected regularly by safety inspectors. I know it is perfectly safe to walk out on those things, but I’m not going there. No way am I getting out on those things! Part of the reason is that I unreasonably feel that they may fail, even though I know through reason and experience that they won’t fail.

More importantly, though, is the lack of faith in myself. I unreasonably feel that I may fall off the bridge or viewing platform even though there are adequate safety devises to keep me from falling. I feel that I don’t have complete control because somehow I am inadequate in my ability to navigate the bridge or stand safely on the platform. I am inadequate to save myself from falling.

Salvation doesn’t depend on your ability because neither you or anyone else is able to save him or herself. It’s impossible because salvation through the law depends upon not ever in a whole lifetime violating even the slightest point in God’s law. The primary point in the law was to point out your inability to save yourself. You have to have complete faith in Jesus as your Savior to inherit eternal life with God in heaven. And, faith means more than just inheritance (Romans 4:14-16). It incorporates other important requirements of salvation. It purifies your heart (Acts 15:9), sanctifies you (Acts 26:18) and justifies you and triumphs in time or trouble (Romans, Chapter 5).

What then is faith? It’s a difficult concept to grasp if you really think about it. The writer of Hebrews (Most likely Paul) defines faith: ” Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony” (Hebrews 11:1,2). Faith is also required for a life in Christ. Abraham believed God, packing up and leaving his home because God told him to, even though he had no idea of where he was going until after he left. And God counted this faith as righteousness (Romans 4:3). This makes no logical sense in the worldly way of thinking. I can almost hear the conversation in Abraham’s house after God told him to leave. “Sarah, start packing now, were leaving”. Sarah, of course has questions; Why are they leaving, where are they going and what are they going to do when they get to wherever they wander to? Abraham says he didn’t know the answer to any of those questions. They’re leaving friends and their community simply because God told him to leave with no further explanation.

The reason God told him to leave was because God was to make Abraham the father of the Jewish nation. But Abraham didn’t know that. This story points up a very important quality of faith: The evidence of faith comes after exercising it, not before. There is no evidence of your salvation through faith until you step out and exercise your faith in God as did Abraham. Once you exercise your faith in God you will see the evidence of God’s hand behind all you do to fulfill His plan for your life. God cares for the lilies of the field, and He will much more take care of you if by faith you follow His plan for your life (Matthew 6: 19-33). Jesus promises you that in the world you will have troubles, but to “be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And so will you in Christ. It requires exercising faith without always knowing why. This can be confusing and scary! But God created the world and maintains it and everything in it (John 1:1-3), and He promises to take care of you if you unquestionably follow Him. Once you step out in faith to follow God’s plan for your life, whatever that is, God’s support and care for you will become evident in your life both to you and others you interact with. And, there is no better time to start stepping than right this minute.

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